On the most recent date on which virtuous humans are supposed to be lifted from their Earthly cares, I can’t think of any better story to share than this one by Sally Gwylan, in which the battle between religion and humanism is aided by an unusual agent. An exceprt:
The auditorium blazed with the new electric lights and was full to overflowing. There was never a chance I would find Josef in that seething mass by venturing into it, so I went round back & climbed the stairs up to the outside walk. A small crowd pressed up near the open windows to listen, but not all the sashes had been raised. I chose one of these closed windows for my vantage point.
As I searched the mass of people below me for Josef’s gipsy curls & defiant red scarf, the Reverend’s words deviled my ears despite the barrier of the window-glass. A small man whose gestures & intonation burned with fevered zeal, Owings exhorted his audience to Pray! Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead them into the ways of righteousness!
And as he shouted, the air inside the hall began to sparkle, golden motes drifting down. I doubted my eyes, but others were seeing it too, looking up, gaping, and it was then I spotted Josef’s set jaw & bold mustachios pushing through the crowd at the back, with Gretchen drawn but determined just ahead of him, the babe wrapped up tight in her arms. Rather than hurry down to find them I stayed watching the dustfall a moment longer.
Soon all faces were turned up to the glittering motes. Some shouted, a babble of Hallelujahs & Glorys. I believe I saw vents in the sculpted ceiling from which the dust issued, but the stuff spread out quickly, & surely the people below couldn’t tell the source.
Flash & humbug, I thought.
Sweet manna! Owings’s voice rang out. Rejoice for the Lord is with us tonight! & the people in the hall raised up their arms, their heads tipped back as though the golden fall were a shower of welcome rain. Every face filled with wonder.
Even — this is what haunts me, this is the impossible thing — my rebel Josef’s. Gretchen too, the both of them stopped in their tracks and gaping with childish awe as I have never seen either do before & certainly not at such a conjurer’s trick. Cold went through me like a gale off the lake — even now my hands shake with it.
Unable for a time to turn away, I watched & listened as fever took the crowd, some losing themselves so far as to fall to the floor in fits of jerking limbs. Josef & Gretchen did not do so, yet their open-mouthed gullibility was near as bad. Owings’s words pounded the glittering air, sin & pridefulness & render unto Caesar, on & on, a hammer forging his auditors into the shape he desired, til at last I could take no more and stumbled home.
Where I write and wait, hoping that Nathan will return before the others do.